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Jan
09
 
 LUXOR – The world's largest open air museum
 H&R Magazine
Travel to Luxor and you will know why it is one of Egypt's great tourist attractions. It is also commonly known as the world's largest open air museum. Luxor is built on and around the ancient site of Thebes. Tourists have been visiting the area since the Greco-Roman times, so you won't be the first!

Luxor Temple, situated in the center of the town,was built by the New Kingdom
Pharaoh Amenophis III. It is spectacular and so compact it can be visited in an hour.

An avenue of sphinxes faces the temple where two red granite obelisks originally stood in front of the first pylon. Nowadays only one, more than 25 meters high, remains. The other was removed to Paris where it now stands in the center of the Place de la Concorde. Six colossal statues of Ramesses II, two of them seated, flanked the entrance, though today only the two seated ones have survived.
The temple is fronted by a 24 meter high pylon built by Ramesses II. Reliefs and texts on the outside of the first pylon relate the story of the battle of Qadesh against the Hittites and other military victories of later kings, particularly those of the Nubian Dynasty. Within the pylon is the Peristyle Courtyard of Ramesses II, surrounded by two rows of papyrus bud columns with cylindrical shafts on all of its sides. It is here, in the northeast corner, that an ancient church was located, on the ruins of which the more modern mosque was built.

Amenhotep III built the temple proper including the colonnade, the big second courtyard and the hypostyle hall. The processional colonnade of Amenhotep III runs for some 100 meters with seven papyrus columns on either side standing 19 meters high. Two seated double statues of Amun and Mut are on the south side. Beyond the colonnade is the Great Sun Court of Amenhotep III’s temple which was
decorated from the time of Amenhotep himself to that of Alexander the Great. The side walls retain some of their original coloring.

At the back of the Great Sun Court there is a hypostyle hall which leads to a smaller eight columned hall or portico which leads to two square halls. Directly behind are the innermost chambers of the Amenhotep III temple. The first of them is a broad "hall of the offering table", with twelve columns symbolizing the hours of the day (depictions of the sun-god's day and evening barques appear on the room's walls). Beyond the twelve columned broad hall, in the central location, is the original sanctuary or "holy of holies", containing the base of the block which once supported the colossal god's image.

The temple complex of Karnak was built over a time period of 1300 years and was the most important place of worship in ancient Egypt. The site is huge, measuring 1500 x 800 meters, and is a spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks. If you don't have the energy to cover all that ground then don't miss the Hypostyle Hall in the Great Temple of Amun.
The Hypostyle Hall is considered to be one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces. Construction began during Ramesses I's reign, continued under Seti I (1306 - 1290 BC) and was completed by Seti I's son, Ramesses II. Some imagination is required here to appreciate what it must have looked like: the walls, ceilings and columns are painted with the natural earth tones. The reliefs throughout the hall contain symbolism of Creation and the outer walls are covered with scenes of battle.

Leaving the hypostyle hall through the third pylon you come to a narrow court where there once stood several obelisks. One of the obelisks was erected by Tuthmosis I (1504 - 1492 BC) who was the father of Hatshepsut. This obelisk still stands 21.3m tall and weighs about 143 tons and the original inscription is in its place. Beyond this obelisk is the only remaining Obelisk of Hatshepsut.

The Holy of Holies or sanctuary was originally the oldest part of the temple. The present sanctuary was built by the brother of Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia. The present sanctuary was built on the site of the earlier sanctuary built by Tuthmosis III and it contains blocks from the Tuthmosis sanctuary and still contain Tuthmosis' inscriptions.

At the end of the complex there is the Sacred Lake, which was used for ritual navigation. It was surrounded by storerooms and living quarters for the priests. There was also an aviary for aquatic birds. At the northern corner of the lake there is a huge granite statue of a scarab. As a side note to this structure, the local guides tell tourists that if one walks around the scarab seven times, he or she will never again have love problems. So it is common to see the tourists making laps around the scarab.

The Valley of the Kings is located in the Theban Hills and it contains at least 63 tombs, beginning with Thutmose I (or possibly earlier, during the reign of Amenhotep I), and ending with Ramesses X or XI. Despite the name, the Valley of the Kings also contains the tombs of favorite nobles as well as the wives and children of both nobles and pharaohs. Around the time of Ramesses I (ca. 1301 BC) construction
commenced in the separate Valley of the Queens.

The usual tomb plan consisted of a long inclined rock-cut corridor, descending through one or more halls (possibly mirroring the descending path of the sun-god into the underworld), to the burial chamber.

Each burial was provided with equipment that would enable a continued existence in the afterlife in comfort. Also present in the tombs were ritual magical items, such as divine figurines and Shabti's (funerary figurines placed in tombs and intended to act as substitutes for the deceased, should he/she be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife). Some equipment was that which the king may have used in their lifetime (Tutankhamen’s sandals for example), and some was specially constructed for the burial.

The modern abbreviation "KV" stands for "Kings' Valley", and the tombs are numbered in the order of 'discovery' from Ramesses VII (KV1) to KV63 (which was discovered in 2005).

THE TOMB OF TUTANKHAMEN (KV62) is perhaps the most famous discovery of modern Western archaeology and was made here by Howard Carter on November 4, 1922. This was the first royal tomb to be discovered that was still largely intact (although tomb robbers had entered it), and is today still considered the major discovery in the valley.

The tomb of Tutankhamen is the smallest and simplest in the Valley: the only decoration in the tomb is in the burial chamber, with its well-known scene of Ay performing the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony on the mummy of Tutankhamun. Unusual is the scene on the wall showing the burial procession, something otherwise unknown in a royal tomb.

The fame of the burial is due to the
fabulous treasures it housed, which are on display in the Cairo Museum. Inside the tomb there was a large collection of artifacts used throughout the King’s life. These artifacts range from a decorated chest, which was most likely used as a closet or suitcase, to ivory and gold bracelets, necklaces, and other decorative jewelry, to alabaster vases and flasks. The tomb was also home to many weapons and instruments used by the King. The most well known artifact in King Tutankhamen’s tomb is the famous Gold Mask, which rests over the bandages that wrap around the King’s face. The mask weighs in at 24.5 pounds of solid gold, and is believed to represent what the King’s face really looked like. Many features of the mask - the eyes, nose, lips and chin - are all represented in a youthful way.

The last tomb discovered, on March 2006, is TOMB KV63. Initially believed to be a royal tomb, it is now believed to have been a storage chamber for the mummification process. The chamber contained seven wooden coffins and many large storage jars. All coffins have now been opened, and were found to contain only mummification materials, with the jars also containing mummification supplies including salts, linens, and deliberately broken pottery.

The newly revealed shaft descends some five meters. At the bottom of this pit stands a five-foot tall door made of stone blocks. Behind this stands the single chamber. The chamber measures some four meters by five and has plain white walls. It contained seven wooden coffins, including one scaled for a child and one for a small infant. Two of the adult coffins and the child's coffin feature yellow funerary masks; the others have black funerary masks. It has been suggested that those with yellow faces may have been designed for female occupants. The identity of the owners of the coffins is unknown. It is possible that the coffins were added to the chamber over a period of time.

The chamber also held 28 large storage jars made from both pottery and alabaster. Most of them were discovered with intact lids, but did not bear pharaonic seal impressions. They contained natron, wood, seeds, shells, carbon, assorted pottery, small animal bones, papyrus fragments, mud trays, mud seals, and pieces of twine or rope.

Work has been going on to carefully remove the coffins and the storage jars to KV10, which has adequate space for a conservation team to conduct a thorough examination and analysis of the coffins and jars in a proper, scientific manner.

The Valley of the Queens is located near the better known Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes (modern Luxor). This barren area in the western hills was chosen due to its relative isolation and proximity to the capital. The Valley of the Queens is the place where wives of Pharaohs were buried in ancient times. Along with the Queens of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties
(1550–1070 BCE) many princes and princesses were also buried with various members of the nobility. The tombs of these individuals were maintained by mortuary priests who performed daily rituals and provided offerings and prayers for the deceased nobility.

This necropolis is said to hold more than seventy tombs, many of which are stylish and lavishly decorated. An example of this is the resting place carved out of the rock for Queen Nefertari (1290–1224 BCE) of the 19th Dynasty. Nefertari was one of five wives of Ramesses II, but his favorite. This is why her tomb is one of the most beautiful in Egypt. It is completely painted with lots of scenes and in most of them, Nefertari, known as 'the most beautiful of them', is accompanied by gods. She is usually wearing a golden crown with two feathers extended from the back of a vulture and clothed in a white, gossamer gown. Be sure not to miss the side room where one scene depicts the queen worshipping the mummified body of Osiris. Near the stairs to the burial chamber is another wonderful scene with Nefertarti offering milk to the goddess Hathor.

The Colossi of Memnon are two giant statues most visitors admire on their way to the Valley of the Kings but it is worth a stop to see them up close. They depict Amenhotep III (fl. 14th century BC) in a seated position, his hands resting on his knees and his gaze turned eastward toward the river and the rising sun. Two shorter figures are carved into the front throne alongside his legs: these are his wife Tiy and mother Mutemwiya. The side panels depict the Nile god Hapy.

The statues are made from blocks of quartzite sandstone which was stone quarried near modern-day Cairo and transported 420 miles over land without using the Nile to Thebes as they were too heavy to transport upstream on the Nile. Including the stone platforms on which they stand, they reach a towering 18 meters in height. They weigh an estimated 700 tons each.

The original function of the Colossi was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep's memorial temple (or mortuary temple): a massive cult centre built during the pharaoh's lifetime, where he was worshipped as a god-on-earth both before and after his departure from this world. With the exception of the Colossi, however, very little remains today of Amenhotep's temple. Standing on the edge of the Nile floodplain, successive annual inundations gnawed away at the foundations and it was not unknown for later rulers to dismantle, purloin, and reuse portions of their predecessors' monuments. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo, writing in the early years of the 1st century, tells of an earthquake (in 27 BC) that shattered the northern colossus, collapsing it from the waist up. Following its rupture, this statue was then reputed to "sing" every morning at dawn: a light moaning or whistling, probably caused by rising temperatures and the evaporation of dew inside the porous rock. The legend of the "Vocal Memnon", the luck that hearing it was reputed to bring, and the reputation of the statue's oracular powers, travelled the length of the known world, and a constant stream of visitors, including several Roman Emperors, came to marvel at the statues. The mysterious vocalizations of the broken colossus ceased in 199, however, when Emperor Septimius Severus, in an attempt to curry favors with the oracle, reassembled the two shattered halves.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is situated beneath the cliffs at Deir el Bahari on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings and is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra. It is considered one of the "incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt."

Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty (22 years). Hatshepsut was successful in warfare early in her reign, but generally is considered to be a pharaoh who inaugurated a long peaceful era.

Hatshepsut's remains were long considered lost, but in June 2007 a mummy from Tomb KV60, was identified publicly as her remains by Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Evidence supporting this identification includes the results of a DNA comparison with the mummy of Ahmose Nefertari, Hatshepsut's great-grandmother and matriarch of the eighteenth dynasty. Modern CT scans of that mummy believed to be Hatshepsut suggest she was about fifty years old when she died from a ruptured abscess after removal of a tooth. Although this was the cause, it is quite possible she would not have lived much longer; there are signs in her mummy of metastatic bone cancer, as well as possible liver cancer and diabetes.

When her husband (also her half-brother) Thutmose II died, he left behind only one son, a young Thutmose III to succeed him. Due to the relative youth of Thutmose III, he was not eligible to assume the expected tasks of a pharaoh. Instead, Hatshepsut became the regent of Egypt at this time, assumed the responsibilities of state, and was recognized by the leadership in the temple.

Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple appears at the visitors with its three colonnaded terraces. Each 'storey' is articulated by a double colonnade of square piers, with the exception of the northwest corner of the central terrace, which employs Proto Doric columns to house the chapel. These terraces are connected by long ramps which were once surrounded by gardens.

The relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh- the first of its kind. Toward the end of the reign of Thutmose III and into the reign of his son, an attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from certain historical and pharaonic records. This elimination was carried out in the most literal way possible. Her cartouches and images were chiseled off some stone walls, leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork.

At the Deir el-Bahri temple, Hatshepsut's numerous statues were torn down and in many cases, smashed or disfigured before being buried in a pit. At Karnak there even was an attempt to wall up her obelisks. It is not clear why it happened, other than the typical pattern of self-promotion that existed among the pharaohs and their administrators, or perhaps saving money by not building new monuments for the burial
of Thutmose III and instead, using the grand structures built by Hatshepsut.

Actually, the erasures were sporadic and haphazard, with only the more visible and accessible images of Hatshepsut being removed.

Luxor today is a city of some 150,000 people and is governed by special statues that allow it more autonomy than other political areas of Egypt. One thing you might notice is that various government and other buildings conform to an 'ancient' building code. Particularly, the National bank of Egypt (located near the winter palace), the spa south of the police station, and the railway station are all designed to appear as pharaonic constructions. All of this occurred after the Egyptianization of the modern town resulting mostly from the mania that resulted from Howard Carter's discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. As one might think, the city has all the amenities tourists might expect, including a variety of hotels, bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

Things to do in Luxor
Being the host of so many tourists, Luxor has plenty of activities for its visitors that have nothing to do with tombs, temples or dead kings. A journey on the Nile is not expensive with the ferry crossing to the other side. Felucca rides last longer, are quieter and still affordable. The main destination is Banana Island, which is actually a peninsula.

A balloon flight is the latest tourist craze in Luxor. It offers an unbeatable view of the city, the west bank and the Nile river. As the balloon gently rises into the dawn sky, tourists witness the beauty of the early morning Egyptian sun rising over the east bank, illuminating the city and mountains, and enjoy magnificent vistas of the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon. In the distance, the
hidden Valley of the Queens rests peacefully in the mountains while the farming villages below wake up and begin the day.

The Karnak Sound and Light Show is another favorite tourist attraction. The show begins as visitors walk along the Avenue of the Sphinxes, passing through the towering facade into the Great Court. Walking through the complex, a booming Pharaoh's voice narrates the history of Upper Egypt and the New Kingdom as the various additions left by rulers such as King Tutankhamun, Ramses II and Queen Hatshepsut are illuminated against the night sky. The second part of the Sound and Light Show at Karnak finds you seated overlooking the sacred lake as the temple complex is illuminated and the story of Egypt continues. Please note, while the show is suitable for all ages, younger children might be frightened by the darkness of the area and the roaring sound of the speakers. The ground in and around Karnak is uneven and sandy, so please wear comfortable, flat walking shoes.

Luxor has plenty of shopping opportunities, but beware. The first asking price can be quite ridiculous and the will to indulge in haggling depends on the time of the year and your charm. The good thing is that Luxor has it all, only challenged by the tourist quarters of Cairo. Be careful of the shops selling antique items, buy only if you feel that you can evaluate the real value. What is recommended for any visitor to Luxor are the book shops on the Corniche. They have a great selection of books on Egypt and prices are fair.

The modern town is changing day by day with new luxury hotels and lighted promenades. The city streets south of the Luxor Temple are the most active, with the usual shops, some cafes, some good and inexpensive restaurants and crowds of locals in the evenings.

The sheer grandeur of Luxor’s monumental architecture, and its excellent state of preservation, has made this village one of Egypt’s greatest tourist attractions. Its majesty and history will be embedded in the minds of the tourist long after they have left the banks of the Nile but it is said one you have drank from the Nile you will return.
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